Posts Tagged ‘Jack White’

Here we are on the eve of the first of May, and my April recap starts with two instances that build from singles mentions last time out.

I’d only heard Of Monsters and Men’s track “From Finner” when last I wrote, but it was enough to pry a tweet from me, and to make me delve deeper. I sampled My Head is an Animal, their debut LP, and just a few seconds of a few songs was enough to convince me to buy. I haven’t regretted it since. “Little Talks” is the lone official video from the collection, and as if the music wasn’t charming enough the video totally enchants. I’ve yet to find a song on the album that makes me feel any differently, and it’s been in very heavy rotation of late.

 

I also wrote a line or two about the weirdly prolific and carefully eccentric Jack White last time, citing “Sixteen Candles” as being everything I’ve always liked about his quirky brand of unpolished rock. Once I heard Blunderbuss in its entirety I found much more to like, and for almost completely different reasons in every instance. As expected, I didn’t love every outing; by my rough calculation about two thirds of the tracks hit me with that inimitable blend of “Holy shit…” and “Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?” that always astounds and amazes me, and his warbling Tiny Tim-like croon pulled more than one appreciative laugh outta me on first listen. Standout tracks for me include “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, “On and On and On”, “Hypocritical Kiss” and the title track, which may be my favorite. Jack gets it, and whether he’s displaying his effortless prowess and understanding or being purposefully obtuse or goofy he’s one of the truly genuine artistes making relevant and unique sounds these days.

But thankfully not the only one, or this would be a much shorter entry.

April represented a high water mark for the number of shows I had scheduled – and included two more that I hadn’t planned – so Spring in Atlanta (and elsewhere) continues its string of such cornucopian seasons.

Early in the month I drove to The Melting Point in nearby Athens to see Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch, sans Village, and was once again amply rewarded for the effort. New two-person arrangements of songs I was familiar with, along with some new stuff and some novelties (like Abigail playing a kick drum while standing at the mic with her banjo, and Kai drenching the very air with aural torrents that pulsed and wove a lush backdrop for the two to play on), not to mention the Sweetwater Exodus on tap, made the drive totally worth it.

Kai & Abigail at The Melting Point in Athens, GA (4/06/12)

The Boxer Rebellion did some sound-drenching of their own at Center Stage in the middle of the month, and did not disappoint. The most pleasant surprise of the night for me, though, was how much I enjoyed their opener, Grouplove. I liked the only thing I’d heard from them prior to this, but had little expectation and no idea how energetic and just plain happy their music is. I caught myself laughing more than once at their onstage antics – they are obviously having the time of their lives, and it shows in every move they make.

The following week welcomed the Punch Brothers to the Variety Playhouse on what was a very busy day in Little Five Points. The Sweetwater 420 festival was happening just a few blocks away, and it was Independent Record Store day to boot, so hippies and hipsters abounded, and car traffic had to take a back seat to all of it. (Snagged some wicked cool vinyl, btw, at Criminal Records before the show: Sara Watkins’ single with Fiona Apple, pressed on sweet green vinyl; Bowerbirds; Grouplove; and Good Old War’s full length).

The Bros were, as I’d hoped, completely amazing. Consummate showmen and individually virtuosic on their respective instruments, playing as a unit they were near faultless. Exhibiting the same sense of fun and lightheartedness as Grouplove had the week prior, when they got serious we all felt it immediately, and they virtually smoked from the stage. Some choice covers, including a moving version of “The Weight” to close in honor of Levon, and a healthy representation from their latest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now? made it easily one of the best shows, start to finish, I’ve seen this year.

Opener Jesca Hoop was equally inspring, at least for me. Surprisingly, given the abundance of the hippie ideal in sight earlier, her brand of ethereal imagery and unusual (but achingly beautiful) delivery seemed lost on much of the audience. It was doubly surprising to me given that everyone was there to see Punch Brothers, the very representation of unorthodox, non-traditional approaches to traditional instruments and sounds. I was baffled, but I didn’t let it keep me from being transported to whatever space it is that Jesca calls home, or at least inspiration. Playing a white Les Paul with no other accompaniment (with the exception of Mr. Thile joining her on mandolin for one of hers – they sounded amazing together vocally and instrumentally) the songs I’d come to love from her fully fleshed-out album sound were made new, and were no less moving for it.

 

The first of the unplanned gigs presented itself while I was in Toronto for business. I always check Songkick and a few other sites like that when traveling, and every so often I get lucky – like finding the Girlyman gig while in Denver a few weeks ago, and finding out Death Cab was playing at Massey Hall while I’d be in Toronto.

This one is kind of tough to write about for a couple of reasons.

I loved the idea of seeing them at Massey – I have a decent live Neil Young album from the 70’s that was recorded there – and this would be the third time seeing them in the last two years. Both of the other shows (one at The Fox, one at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater with my girls) were stellar.

This one wasn’t, and I so wanted it to be.

They’ve changed up the setlist pretty drastically, presumably to accommodate their touring with the Magik Magik Orchestra, a 7-piece ensemble who played beautifully, and who opened the show with a nice long piece of stringed heaven.

I’m usually more than into it when bands dig deep into their backlog and play some of the more obscure, fan-friendly stuff, but that night it seemed like that’s all they were playing. I finally heard “Cath…”, one of my favorites, about 8 or 10 songs in, and I remember thinking, ‘OK, now we’re getting there…’ And we promptly went right back where we were before. I normally love Ben Gibbard’s writing and performing, and all of the band’s playing, but not long after that I did what I very rarely do – I can’t remember doing it in years.

I left.

I had a briefly magical moment on the walk back to the hotel, though, that redeemed the evening.

The show was on the same Thursday that brother Levon was called back home. As I was strolling along through a very nice Toronto evening I passed the local Hard Rock and figured I’d have a drink and pickup some swag for the crowd back in Atlanta. As I was checking out in the merch area I asked the very nice sales girl if she’d heard about Mr. Helms’ passing. “No!” she said, seeming to be genuinely taken aback. “Oh, man. You know Dylan first met the band here, right?”

“In Toronto?” I asked.

“No. In this building.”

Sure enough the first window of memorabilia on the way to the bar was a full case of albums, instruments and photos celebrating The Band, opposite a similar display of Bob Dylan pieces.

So I had a whiskey or two, toasted the man and the memories with a couple at the bar, and made my way back to the hotel.

The other unexpected show was a much more pleasant surprise.

Just last week I went to The Masquerade to see a band I knew nothing about, opening for a band I’d heard of but never from. Why? Because one of my daughter’s best friends in Atlanta is seeing the drummer for the opening band. Duh.

I’d met John from Concord America weeks before, and didn’t know he was a drummer, or in a band, or even Kate’s boyfriend. He seemed cool and we always made polite small talk. So to find all of that out about him, all at once, meant that I HAD to go to the show.

And, man, am I glad that I did.

They rocked. Hard. Borderline punk, but much more deep, fast hard guitar rock that at times reminded me of Zeppelin after a heavy session at Starbucks – I heard some Sabbath references in there, too, oddly enough – with some jaw dropping time changes that belied their years and experience.

But John himself was the biggest revelation. He was a beast on the drums, and I told him so afterwards. Pure energy – I was a little surprised his body could hold all of it without imploding. All of it was channeled into his kit, though, and pounded out the rhythm of the night for us, sometimes in a machine-gun staccato, sometimes painting softly with the brushes (but usually gunning…), always providing a solid backbone for the other guys to build on, which they did in high style. Check this one out – it’s more towards the punk end of the spectrum but represents their sound well, I think.

Another thing I told John that night: I will see them whenever and wherever they play again. Any time at all. You should, too.

That’s way too much for one entry, and I didn’t even get to how Anais Mitchell’s album transformed me one morning while working last week, or how discovering honeyhoney’s Daytrotter session was one of the best surprises ever, and prompted me to buy their album, too (AND contribute to one of the great causes with which they’re affiliated, Feed Them With Music – check them out and give here), so they’ll all have to wait until next time.

Keep your ears and eyes open til then, and let me know what’s been turning you on lately, too.

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As you can tell, so far I have not been one for having much of a schedule for these entries – weekly, monthly, whenever – instead I’ve been checking in whenever I seem to have enough to talk about. Which is the case again, and which explains why, though the last one was subtitled “March edition,” this one’s also from March. So sue me.

When I returned from my Denver-by-way-of -NJ trip a few weeks ago I’d just seen an awesome show, and arrived home to some new sounds delivered by (gasp!) snail mail. I’ll start there.

Ever since I happened upon The Decemberists several years ago, relatively late to the game in the eyes of most purists, I’m sure, I’ve hoovered up everything I can find by the band and its various offshoots – Black Prairie, we’re looking forward to your latest output – so I was excited to hear We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, a collection of performances from the last tour, in support of  the very strong latest disc The King is Dead. I even saw that three of the cuts were recorded at the show I’d seen on that tour at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta (a gorgeous looking and sounding venue), which made me even more psyched.

So I was a little disappointed to find myself, well, disappointed at many of the tracks. The mix wasn’t quite muddy, but it does sound imbalanced in places, with drums overpowering all else one moment, and Colin’s vocals dominating at others. Some of the harmonies, usually close to flawless, weren’t. Sure, you expect the live experience to be a little more raw and unpolished than studio sessions – that’s part of the fun – but I don’t remember things like that standing out as they do here in the shows of theirs I’ve seen before, so I’m puzzled as to why some of these specific versions were chosen for this compilation.

That’s not to say there are no bright spots for fans new and old. Suicide pact perennial favorite “We Both Go Down Together” shines, and even though I already have multiple versions of that one, this one’s a keeper. Ditto for “The Bagman’s Gambit,” which has never been one of my favorites but which is given a poignancy here that I must have been missing in previous listens. “Rise to Me,” “Calamity Song,” (one of the Atlanta tunes), and concert closer for most of the tour “June Hymn” were all in fine form on this collection, too. It’s not that the others sucked, really, but that I was surprised that the questionable mixes and tired harmonies were acceptable and deemed worthy of release.

I rambled on for way too long last time about the Girlyman show, I know. At that show, though, I bought a few discs (and got a free one in a nice B2GO variation) and have now had time to listen to them properly. The latest, Supernova, succumbed the day after the show as I was driving through the beautiful Rockies on the way to Vail.

I’ve since listened to that one again, along with a slightly older one, and – ecstatically – to the collection of their infamous Tuning Songs. Several times a show, it seems, whenever one of the girls has to pause for a tuning break, Nate Borofsky shows off his considerable improv/songwriting skills to the delight of the crowd and the fake consternation of his bandmates, who always join in on the made-up-as-they-go harmonies. Great stuff, that being the free 3rd disc, and not a dud in the bunch – over 20 examples that give a little glimpse into the between-song banter that’s always so light and airy, in stark contrast to the depth and weight of set list itself. Again, can’t wait to see them in May at Eddie’s Attic here in town.

I’d been hearing/reading about Of Monsters and Men all over, it seemed, when I finally heard one of their tunes on a recent Paste mPlayer. From what I’ve read they killed at SXSW, leaving lasting impressions with some heavyweights there, and if “From Finner” is indicative of their entire canon I can see why. Totally infectious, it pried a tweet out of me last week on St. Pat’s (‘Diggin hard on “From Finner” by Of Monsters and Men on this fine Sat afternoon.’ – I’m so proud of my command of the vernacular…) and still feels like that, some 30+ listens later.

I’d been purposely avoiding any teasers for Jack White’s first solo record (really? his first?) for a couple of reasons. I’m the first one to defend his unorthodox approaches to music and life, but several of the last few ventures have not been particularly thrilling for this fan. Also, I kind of wanted to wait for the release and hear it all at once, total weirdness submersion in a normality deprivation tank of his devising. But, alas, my willpower is not so strong, and when I pre-ordered Blunderbuss I got an auto-download of “Sixteen Saltines,” which I think is just about perfect. Strange, nonsensical, and vaguely dirty, it’s vintage White, and the combo of raunchy guitar and twisted carnival organ that he’s been perfecting with The Raconteurs and Dead Weather dovetail seamlessly. If this song is a bellwether for the rest of the album, and everything I’ve read tells me it very likely is, we’re in for a treat, and I can forgive things like Insane Clown Posse collaborations and just move on.

One of the better Daytrotter sessions I’ve grabbed of late is from The Boxer Rebellion. I love it when bands go into the Horse Shack and rework their own songs a touch, and even more when they choose interesting covers that matter to them, and put their own spin on them. TBR does both (they provide a haunting, low key cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” the original of which I always thought was a little too fey,) and that makes it one of the finest of these healthy experiments I’ve heard to date.

Slow Club‘s session is equally entrancing and shouldn’t be missed.

But the best DT session, and most immersive musical experience I’ve had in the last few weeks, has been from Wye Oak.

I wrote about them when compiling my list of 2011’s best albums, and promised a detailed recap of their incredible show in a future, as yet unrealized, review of the best concerts I saw last year. (In my defense, they were all pretty damned good – I wouldn’t have bought tickets and gone if I didn’t already like the bands, and the disappointments were so few and so small as to have already been forgotten. Therefore, they were practically impossible to rank or score; they crossed genres and styles and venues and moods, and couldn’t really be compared as much as reported on, which I may yet do.)

Of the 18 shows I saw in 2011 theirs was probably my favorite of the year. Notice I didn’t say “best,” though it could probably be considered in the top 2 or 3 on that list, too.

The Tabernacle is one of my favorite Atlanta venues, as well. Good size, great history (as its name implies it’s a huge old church from the 20’s or 30’s and still looks it) and it it serves loud bands well, even when they’re not being loud. When writing about Civilian, one of my very favorite albums of last year, I briefly described that show and how suprising it was to find that they’re a 2-pieece, with “Jenn Wasner playing all the masterful, many-hued guitar sounds, and the equally incredible Andy Stack playing drums, keyboards and working the BGVs – all at the same time. To see his left hand and foot playing a staggered stack of keys while his right appendages played a small but explosive drum kit left me reeling.” It’s impossible to describe the  thickness and tangibility of the waves of sound Jenn produces from one guitar, and it’s never more powerful than when she revs it from zero to 60 at the end of a quiet verse, filling the air with sometimes angry, sometimes plaintive, always compelling volume and texture.

Their Daytrotter session, which has mysteriously vanished or I would link to it, is maybe the best one I’ve heard so far. A few songs I wasn’t aware of – and which promptly forced me to find and buy their previous album, so mission accomplished, everyone – some that I knew well, and a gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s “Pocahontas” – all the ingredients providing what these sessions should be: both new and familiar, adding to your appreciation of the artist, never rehashing what you may have already heard in the same ways you’ve already heard it. Until hearing “Pocahontas,” (never one of my favorite Young tunes, and I have many,) I never heard the now-obvious parallel between the fuzz-drenched, distortion-heavy sonic assault of Jenn Wasner and that of Neil Young, one of the sloppiest excellent guitar players I’ve ever loved. Staying in tune, not generating feedback, and keeping things neat and tidy have never been high priorities for Neil – to great effect – and while Jenn eschews the sloppy she’s every bit the aural architect as her shaggy predecessor, welding many-roomed mansions as glowing and as alive as his, on her very own (but neighboring) hill.

Don’t miss it – if you can find it. If not, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. . .